My Dear Governess: the Letters of Edith Wharton to Anna Bahlmann

From New Statesman:

EdithAround 1908, Henry James wrote to a young man he knew: “You have made friends with Edith Wharton. I congratulate you. You may find her difficult, but you will never find her stupid and you will never find her mean.” This quotation appears in most Wharton biographies and many of James and now returns in this volume of letters edited by Irene Goldman-Price. (Goldman-Price somewhat surprisingly chooses to quote from Percy Lubbock’s ­version of the letter in his Portrait of Edith Wharton (1947), which changes the final clause to: “You will find nothing stupid in her and nothing small” – Lubbock was presumably quoting from memory.) Readers interested in Wharton’s very interesting life do not lack for opportunities to learn about her: she wrote an autobiography, A Backward Glance, in 1934; she has been the subject of three major biographies in the past 40 years; and a selection of her voluminous correspondence appeared in 1989. Wharton led an increasingly public existence as the grande dame of American letters in the first half of the 20th century but documentation of her early years has been patchy. To a great extent, biographers have had to rely on A Backward Glance, in which she describes growing up in the “old New York” of the 1870s and 1880s.

Then, in 2009, an unexpected treasure trove appeared at auction: Anna Catherine Bahl­mann, who became Wharton’s governess in 1874 and was her companion and secretary until Bahlmann’s death in 1916, had kept all 135 of Wharton’s letters to her over 40 years. No one else knew of the letters’ existence and the archive is of real significance to Wharton scholarship. The majority of the Bahlmann correspondence was written before 1900, the year that Wharton’s first novel was published.

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A Quiet Revolution by Leila Ahmed

From The Guardian:

An-Egyptian-woman-in-full-007During the first half of the 20th century, millions of Muslim women decided to abandon the head coverings their mothers had used; in the second half of the century, millions of Muslim women resumed wearing the veil. How and why these fluctuations of personal habit affected so many across the Muslim world is the question Leila Ahmed sets herself. She focuses on Egypt, which was a key influence in both the unveiling and the veiling, to trace the many meanings which this piece of cloth has acquired. It's an acute study of how issues of political power and empire interact with women's own claims to autonomy within families and communities. Ahmed beds her analysis into the wider political currents of Egypt without ever losing sight of women's own interpretations of what they were doing and why.

What adds force to the analysis is the sense that the book has been a journey of personal discovery for Ahmed, a Harvard academic. She grew up in Cairo in the 1940s, and was raised by a generation of women who never wore the veil; she absorbed from them the assumption that the veil was backward, a restriction of female autonomy. Like many Muslim women of her generation, the veil's reappearance has been shocking, unexpected and regarded as a step backwards. Writing the book has forced her to reassess such assumptions, and come to a new, more positive understanding of the veil.

More here.

Laughter

What is laughter? What is laughter?

It is God waking up! O it is God waking up!

It is the sun poking its sweet head out

From behind a cloud

You have been carrying too long,

Veiling your eyes and heart.

It is Light breaking ground for a great Structure

That is your Real body – called Truth.

It is happiness applauding itself and then taking flight

To embrace everyone and everything in this world.

Laughter is the polestar

Held in the sky by our Beloved,

Who eternally says,

“Yes, dear ones, come this way,

Come this way towards Me and Love!

Come with your tender mouths moving

And your beautiful tongues conducting songs

And with your movements – your magic movements

Of hands and feet and glands and cells – Dancing!

Know that to God's Eye,

All movement is a Wondrous Language,

And Music – such exquisite, wild Music!”

O what is laughter, Hafiz?

What is this precious love and laughter

Budding in our hearts?

It is the glorious sound

Of a soul waking up!

by Hafiz
from I Heard God Laughing – Renderings
of Hafiz by Daniel Ladinsky

Is Family Dinner Overrated?

From Ann Meier and Kelly Musick in the NYTimes:

FamilydinnerDozens of studies in the past decade have found that teenagers who regularly eat dinner with their families are healthier, happier, do better in school and engage in fewer risky behaviors than teenagers who don’t regularly eat family dinners. These findings have helped give dinnertime an almost magical aura and have led to no small amount of stress and guilt among busy moms and dads.

But does eating together really make for better-adjusted kids? Or is it just that families that can pull off a regular dinner also tend to have other things (perhaps more money, or more time) that themselves improve child well-being?

More here.

Higgs boson rumours fly as Cern prepares to announce latest results

Alok Jha in The Guardian:

Simulated-collision-of-pr-008As soon as scientists at Cern revealed that they would host a seminar on 4 July to announce the latest results from its two main Large Hadron Collider (LHC) experiments, Atlas and CMS, physicists and bloggers started guessing. Would they announce the long-awaited discovery of the Higgs boson, a find that would be sure to trigger a raft of Nobel prizes and launch a new era of physics?

In December last year, Cern scientists glimpsed something that looked like it might be a Higgs boson in their data, but the results were not conclusive enough to be formally called a discovery. But now hopes are high.

“We now have more than double the data we had last year,” said Sergio Bertolucci, Cern's director for research and computing. “That should be enough to see whether the trends we were seeing in the 2011 data are still there, or whether they've gone away. It's a very exciting time.”

Even if the scientists next week report the signal for a new type of particle, it will take time to convince the scientific community that it is indeed the Higgs boson, or whether it is something else, perhaps something even more exotic that opens the door to new theories of physics.

More here.

The case for a world republic

Tad Daley in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:

0804756325Lawrence Wittner's 2009 book, Confronting the Bomb: A Short History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement, has an overarching message that will surprise even nuclear policy experts, because Wittner starts with an incontrovertible historical fact almost wholly forgotten today: For several years after Hiroshima, the ultimate aspiration of the disarmament crowd was not just to eliminate nuclear weapons, but to create a federal republic of the world to control them. Though world government did not come to pass, the movement had a vital impact, from the Truman administration's first major nuclear initiatives through the Reagan years. Is democratic federal world government desirable and achievable? If not, is there an alternative world order that might eliminate war and standing militaries from the human condition? These sorts of questions are conspicuous only by their complete absence from the contemporary policy debate.

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The Ultimate Counterfeiter Isn’t a Crook—He’s an Artist

David Wolman in Wired:

Ff_counterfeiter_fOn a bright May afternoon in 2007, a German artist and printmaker named Hans-Jürgen Kuhl took a seat at an outdoor café directly opposite the colossal facade of the Cologne Cathedral. He ordered an espresso and a slice of plum cake, lit a Lucky Strike, and watched for the buyer. She was due any minute. Kuhl, a lanky 65-year-old, had to remind himself that he was in no rush. He’d sold plenty of artwork over the years, but this batch was altogether different. He needed to be patient.

Tourists milled about the platz in front of the cathedral, Germany’s most visited landmark, craning their necks to snap pictures of the impossibly intricate spires jutting toward the heavens. Kuhl knew those spires well. He had grown up in Cologne and painted the majestic cathedral countless times.

On the other side of a low brick wall surrounding the café, Kuhl finally spotted her. Tall, blond, and trim, Susann Falkenthal looked about 30. As was the case during their previous meetings, she wore practical shoes, an unremarkable blouse and pair of pants, and little makeup. Kuhl thought her plain look was something of a contradiction for a businesswoman who drove a black BMW convertible, but no matter.

More here.